County Championship 2014: 5 Talking Points from Round 3 of Fixtures
Forget the IPL with its trumpets blaring every time someone smashes some long-suffering bowler out of the park and the needless lycra-clad cheerleaders dancing like they are on Top of the Pops when a wicket falls, county championship cricket is where the real action is!
But seriously, for those in the know, this season is already shaping up to be a cracker with a dog-eat-dog mentality and a plethora of potential England spots up for grabs providing intense competition in both divisions.
This week, inclement weather and some incredible Day 4 resistance, saw six of the seven matches end in draws, but there were still plenty of talking points.
1. England Watch
Whether it’s the increased chance of a call-up or just some surprisingly good early-season wickets, many of England's regulars and hopefuls have made flying starts to the season. Here's a quick rundown as to how they got on this week.
Alastair Cook: England’s skipper continues to fill his boots in county cricket by doubling his season's century tally against a strong Surrey attack. A prolific summer of run scoring could be in the pipeline.
Ian Bell: Almost captained Warwickshire to a narrow victory over Lancashire (see Slide 4) and contributed a watchful first-innings 75 to go alongside last week's century. Looks in good nick.
Nick Compton: Helped guide Somerset to safety against Durham with a typically patient fourth-innings ton. Could the 30-year-old come back into the England team in the troublesome No. 3 spot?
Jonathan Trott: A sad week for the former England stalwart as a relapse of his anxiety issues saw him once again take a, hopefully temporary, hiatus from duty.
Jimmy Anderson: Rare off game for the king of swing, who took just one wicket for 107 runs across two innings for Lancashire against Warwickshire.
Michael Carberry: Many believe that the Hampshire opener deserves more time at international level and to perhaps face a slightly less rampant attack. Scores of 27, 100*, 45 and 47 indicate he may get this chance.
Gary Balance: See slide 2.
Ravi Bopara: He may have had more comebacks than EastEnders' Nick Cotton, but Bopara was one of the few bright sparks to emerge from England’s troubled winter. While he has not yet registered the big hundred that would get the selectors to sit up and take note this summer, three scores of 40-plus hint at things to come.
2. Ballance Asssured of England Middle-Order Spot
Oddly, Gary Ballance still remains slightly under the radar, but the Yorkshire run machine has picked up from exactly where he left off in his 2013 breakthrough season
After coming into bat at 57/3, the Zimbabwean-born batsman helped his county reach 459/9 against Northants, a position that proved to be a match winner as they went on to clinch victory on Day 4.
Ballance's “daddy” century, which ended when he was LBW for 174, added to his 77 last week against Somerset indicate the personal and team confidence running through a side who were many people's pre-season title tips.
The 24-year-old’s Test debut against the Aussies in Sydney was a largely forgettable affair, but surely this calm and composed batsman deserves first crack at pinning down a spot in the new-look side.
3. Onions Makes Selectors' Eyes Water
How England didn’t take Graham Onions to Australia, choosing instead to go with Boyd Rankin, Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett over the man who snared 66 victims at an average of just 17.68 last season, remains a mystery.
A mystery that the Somerset top order could probably comment on in more detail after the seamer wrecked their first innings by removing four of their top seven to help his Durham team establish a 123-run lead in their clash this week.
Onions thrives on bowling a tight, wicket-to-wicket line, where any hint of swing or movement off the pitch can prove lethal to opposition batters.
Hopefully, one of the first moves by the new-look England side will be to give the 31-year-old an extended run in the side to find out once and for all whether he can cut it at the highest level.
4. County Championship Thriller at Old Trafford
If one day of County Championship cricket could sum up the attraction and yet almost absurdity of this competition, then the final three sessions of the match between Lancashire and Warwickshire at Old Trafford pretty much did.
The hosts started the day on 46/0, still 31 runs behind Ian Bell's men with crease occupation on their minds. Two sessions later, they were all out for 196, leaving the 2012 champions just 120 to win.
However, the formality of this straightforward run chase soon dissolved as England discard Simon Kerrigan took four wickets, including that of Ian Bell, to rip out Warwickshire’s middle order and bring a remarkable Lancashire victory back into the equation.
Bears opener Varun Chopra recorded a cool half-century to steady the ship and put on 25 with Ateeq Javid to bring the target down to 25 runs off 27 balls. And then...bad light stopped play and both sides had to settle for a draw!
5. Is Gidman Too Old for an England Call-Up?
With the current England team in its greatest state of flux for some time, it is a little surprising that Gloucestershire’s Will Gidman has not been more strongly linked with a call-up.
After collecting nine wickets against Glamorgan to push his side to what would have been a straightforward win if not for rain interruptions—to go with his five scalps last time out—it could be worth taking a look at the rarest of cricketing species: a genuine all-rounder.
Gidman averages over 35 with the bat in first-class cricket and has collected 129 wickets at a sensational average of 20.96 while opening the bowling.
Maybe age works against the 29-year-old a little, but the late bloomer has only played 45 matches in his career and remains fresh when compared to the workload endured by other players of his age.